Separating Healthy and Unhealthy Insecurity

Rachel Chimits

Typically, we think of insecurity as a bad thing to avoid at all costs, but often it can be an important signal we shouldn’t ignore.

As a consultant, Ron Carucci works with CEOs and executives to transform their organizations, cultivate positive work environments and achieve maximum productivity.

One of his clients came to him with a particular problem, though it was sadly one he quickly recognized. She had been working hard to develop an office environment where people feel safe sharing their emotions. As a result, one of her most talented designers was the first to open up and admit his insecurities to the team.

However, what began innocently enough soon avalanched into this team member fishing for compliments and support by constantly barraging coworkers with discussions about his work anxieties.

People started going out of their way to avoid him simply because they didn’t want to be sucked into another obligatory “there-there,” back-patting session.

The more they ostracized him, the needier he became. “I don’t want to lose his talent,” his director admitted, “but I don’t have the energy to manage him.”

When Insecurity Might Be Good

When being insecure is brought up, it typically makes us think about people who suffer from chronic inferiority or have a powerful fear of others’ disapproval.

However, insecurity isn’t always a bad thing to feel, depending on the circumstances.

One of our neighbors in my childhood had a black lab who was perfectly mild-mannered when his owner was around; but one time, when no one was home, the dog bit one of my friends.

After that, I was always nervous around that animal. I didn’t trust it, and I certainly didn’t feel secure whenever it approached me.

Many of us—for reasons that should be obvious—don’t feel secure around someone who has hurt us or demonstrated dangerous, damaging behavior. Alternatively, maybe you’ve met a person who hasn’t done anything to you personally, but their demeanor reminds you of someone else who has. Either way, our mind, body and spirit quickly shift into a defensive posture.

As Jon Bloom points out on Desiring God, “God designed insecurity as a warning that we are vulnerable to some kind of danger. It instructs us to take some protective action.”

There are definitely times when feeling insecure is a valuable warning to keep us from being injured or from walking back into a bad situation.

The Marks and Costs of Insecurity

The other side of insecurity is when we aren’t sure what our identity is or we believe our identity is something other than what it actually is.

“Where does our sense of identity come from? This is the crucial question, the pinnacle of the problem….” Bloom says. “And it’s not primarily an intellectual answer. We all know that we can “know” the right answer, but not know the right answer. We answer this question from our heart, because our identity is tied into what we really love, what we really want, what we really believe offers us hope.

“In other words, we always find our identity in our god.”

When the thing we worship and base our identity upon is threatened, we immediately react either to flee or fight whatever is shaking our deity. In his article about the sin of insecurity, Jeremy Pierre created a list of the most common behaviors that signal this kind of insecurity.

  1. We’re self-absorbed.
  2. We crave others’ attention and approval.
  3. We want to be justified by our own performance.
  4. We’re dissatisfied with God.

All of these are usually marks of someone trying to either ignore or shore up the fragile god at the center of their identity.

Worse yet, constantly reacting and trying to defend whatever makes us feel secure is costly, and the price tag is almost always relationships with others or our own mental and physical wellness.

Shifting Our Attention to Secure Ground

In his 86 Seconds devotionals, Gary Wilkerson discusses how to turn away from a life built around insecurities. “When you find that peace that says, ‘You know what, I’m accepted by God. I’m loved. I’m the man he wants me to be. I’m the woman he wants me to be. As a result of that, I can just listen. As I listen to him, it’s a whole new way of living.

“’…I already have the validation of the Holy Spirit; therefore, I can just listen to his steps…and I can walk in peace.’ That’s the successful life.”

The first steps of moving our life away from small gods and insecurity will definitely start with prayer and almost always involve close, godly friends. Attempting to do this on our own won’t work.

Adam and Eve tried to hide their vulnerabilities in the garden, and humanity has never stopped trying to do the same since. However, we have a particular blindness when it comes to our own sins. Chances are good, with insecurities, that we’ve built an entire façade around protecting that little idol at our heart.

In order to shift our love and attention away from that false altar, we need a good friend who knows when we’ve started to slip back into our old ways.

Once we know that certain habitual behavior is not based in our secure relationship with God, we need to stop excusing ourselves. This isn’t our justification to say, “Oh, well, I do that because of—” whatever reasons and defenses we can drum up. This habit has become a little red flag that we’re taking our focus off of what God has done for us and moving to what we can do for us.

We will find true security, a gentle spirit, joy and compassionate honesty when we rest in God purpose for our lives.

After all, none of this life is about us in the end.